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Sam Bell - Rock Improvisation Part 2: Moving Around The Fretboard

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 36 **

Hello there and welcome to the second instalment of my brand new guitar lesson column ‘Rock Improvisation’ I really hope last issue's guitar improvisation tutorial has been insightful and inspiring, if you haven’t checked it out yet, then check out the first column before diving deep into this one! To summarise however, last lesson I took a look at the first box position of the pentatonic scale and we looked at different ways of phrasing such as string bends, vibrato, slides and other great guitar techniques. Today, in this guitar lesson I want to take a look at how we can really move around the fingerboard.

When I first picked up a guitar at five years old, I was obsessed with watching other guitarists, I didn’t have any idea of what they were doing, but one thing I did notice is that when the time came to do a guitar solo, the guitarist would shoot up the guitar neck and start shredding away past the 12th fret and move all around that area with ease. It looked cool and sounded cool and kept me playing guitar. When I came to study guitar in my late teens and had learned the first position of the pentatonic scale, I thought to myself “how do those amazing guitarists move around the neck like that and find even more cool notes!?” I thought it was magic, and it still is really, but now I know the spell.

The 5 Pentatonic Patterns:

In my early years of ‘really playing’ guitar all I had at my disposal was the first box position of the pentatonic scale. It was great, I had a bunch of cool Hendrix licks, I knew that if I moved around enough I could roughly jam over most things, however I couldn’t get out of that box. I felt stuck, uninspired and I felt like I wasn’t a ‘real guitarist’, which wasn't actually true - you can have a whole career of playing guitar with box one position of the pentatonic and make amazing meaningful music that moves audiences. I soon discovered after jamming with some friends that they were using some ‘extra’ patterns around the pentatonic box than the one that I cherished, I figured out bits of it, but it felt like such a long-winded process until my guitar teacher at the time (Bruce Knapp) showed me the 5 positions of the Pentatonic scale. Once I had this lesson, my life changed, and yours might also!

The 5 patterns of the pentatonic are basically jigsaw pieces that fit together and give you a giant pentatonic scale pattern across the entire neck that moves around perfectly in any desired key. You only need to memorise 5 patterns and you already know the first one! Without getting too technical, the pentatonic scale only contains 5 notes, however on the guitar you can play those same 5 in lots of places on the guitar neck, these patterns give us bite sized chunks of information with those 5 good sounding pentatonic notes within them. In the video and tab for this lesson I have played all 5 patterns back to back, each pattern starts where the previous pattern left of, for example: Box one pattern on the Low E string uses frets 12 to 15, Box two starts on the 15th fret and ascends starting 15-17 and so on. You will notice as you try each one similar ‘patterns’ occur, because of this I highly recommend you practice one new pattern at a time, so you become really familiar with it and can relate it to its previous pattern. One really cool way of practicing this (over a backing track is always fun!) is to go up one pattern, move up to the top note of the following pattern and descend that pattern, etc., rinse and repeat! As you get familiar with more patterns you can make a MEGA exercise where you go up and down each of the patterns to the highest available fret and then move back down. The more ways you can ‘travel around’ your ‘note map’ the more comfortable you will be when it comes to improvising and changing into other keys when the time comes.

Moving around in string pairs:

Once you have got a rough idea of how each pattern fits together and you have memorised them as best as you can. I highly recommend the following exercise. It is much like the previous moving up and down through each pattern, however we are going to ‘limit’ the amount of information we have. We are only going to use two strings this time. For example, we could take frets 12 and 15 on both the B and high E strings in Box one of the pentatonic scale, then we would move up to box two but only on the same pair of strings (this time 15 and 17 on each string) then we can move up further (B-17 20, E-17 19) etc., this is a great way of getting used to the scale and also a practical way of seeing it. Rather than the entire pattern, the smaller blocks of information are far more usable in an improvisation setting. We can start ‘adding’ them on top of our box one position and we can start to move around the neck in an endless amount of ways. I highly recommend trying this on all string pairs, G and B, D and G etc. The more you do this, the more fun you will have and the more things you will discover.

Summary:

This issue's lesson is really building the foundation of knowledge that we are going to NEED to digest before we can really make sense of the following columns, so I suggest you get practising, these patterns will sink into your muscle memory the more you practice. Even when you are without a guitar, see if you can imagine how they fit together in your head and then next time you are with a guitar, try it out and see if you were right. Learning the 5 boxes of the pentatonic scale was a HUGE revelation to me and it really motivated me to keep going on guitar and I hope it inspires you also. Happy Practicing!


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